- Tottenham 5th in PL, 1 point back of Chelsea
- Arsenal 6th, 4 points back of Spurs
- Arsenal won first meeting this season, 2-0
In the Premier League, the paths that clubs take matter very little, for over the course of a 38-game season, they typically end up right where they belong. Long winless skids are evened out by runs of good fortune and fortuitous results, and vice versa.
Take, for example, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, the north London powers who have finished five of the last eight seasons occupying consecutive places(*) in the final Premier League table; they were separated by just one spot in two of the other three(**); last season was the lone exception, when Tottenham finished second and Arsenal finished fifth.
The current season, like so many to precede it, has seen Spurs and Arsenal set out in drastically different directions — Spurs were the side who thrashed their Champions League group, which included Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, while the Gunners suffered the indignity of the Europa League — but after six and a half months of the PL season, they enter Saturday’s north London derby (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com) with not another soul standing between them.
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There will almost certainly only be room for one of the two — if any — inside the top-four this season. Thus, Saturday’s clash at Wembley Stadium will carry a great deal of added incentive, particularly for Arsenal, who not only hope to overthrow Spurs, and Chelsea and/or Liverpool, for a top-four finish, but also to re-establish their superiority in north London after finishing behind Spurs last season for the first time in 22 years.
Spurs are the side in far better form over the last six games (12 points to 8), though they’ve also endured a more taxing period of fixtures thanks to their ongoing participation in the FA Cup, including a replay against League Two side Newport County on Wednesday, as well as clashes with fellow top-five sides Manchester United and Liverpool. Harry Kane joined the PL’s 100-goal club last weekend against Liverpool, and the two-time defending (soon-to-be three?) Golden Boot winner has 13 goals to his name in his last 10 appearances (all competitions).
What they’re saying…
Mauricio Pochettino, on the strength of two sides: “Arsenal will be tough to play, they have good quality, talented players and are one of the best teams in the league. I cannot say if they look stronger or not than they were since their new signings. We are focused on us. I don’t care. They play with 11, we play with 11.”
Arsene Wenger, on the rivalry: “There is always huge passion before the game and the emotion at stake means it becomes a bit more agitated; but this season, if you look at the table, this is a very important game. For us, it is an opportunity to come back closer to the Champions League places, which is a priority.”
A frantic pace. Disjointed play. Hard, desperate tackles flying in from all directions. Everything you expect from a frenzied, consequential derby of this caliber. Plus, a Harry Kane goal or two. Spurs 3-2 Arsenal.